How to disagree with the Conservatives

Claude Carignan's motion to suspend three senators found a single Tory dissenter

Sen. Claude Carignan. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

“You don’t get to win every battle, and you know, our system, majorities count.  And there was a strong majority on the other side, and I accept that, and I just move on.” — Sen. Hugh Segal, following votes to suspend three senators

Claude Carignan sounded a lot like the Prime Minister after the Senate suspended three of its own without pay. He blamed the Liberals in the Senate for obstructing the votes. He insisted that Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau ought to be removed from the public payroll. When he emerged from the Senate chamber, mission accomplished, Carignan delivered a prepared statement.

“It’s a great honour to serve in the Parliament, and Canadians expect all parliamentarians to conduct themselves with integrity and to follow the rules,” he opened. If that stuff about honour and integrity sounds so familiar, it’s because you were probably watching Question Period earlier in the day. Stephen Harper’s very first answer talked about the same values.

“Mr. Speaker, it is, of course, an honour to serve in any chamber of the Parliament of Canada. When people are elected or named to the Senate, they should treat it as a great honour,” he said. “Obviously when we name people, we name people of high standing in Canadian society. We expect them to be able to follow the rules and conduct themselves in a way that shows integrity.”

None of that is surprising. Harper’s repeatedly asserted the Senate’s independence, but Conservatives are team players. The three senators claimed expenses improperly, after all. They deserved to be punished. Whether or not the Senate chamber offers the embattled senators due process was a question hotly debated, but for the most part, Tories fell in line behind Carignan’s motion. Several abstained. A single Conservative senator voted against.

Let’s not go and call Hugh Segal, the lone dissenter, some kind of maverick, or renegade, or rebel mastermind. He’s not. He’s a proud Tory. What’s remarkable is his ability to disagree so fundamentally with his caucus and, in the same breath, respect those differences.

“The Conservative Party is full of people with different views, and there wasn’t much of a difference tonight, but for all those in the Conservative Party across Canada who do believe in due process and the rule of law, do believe in fairness, I hope I tried to speak for them,” he said. That’s a stinging indictment of the majority view, but that’s where it ends. No rebellion. Next issue, please.

Carignan’s logic, responding to the several Tories who didn’t follow his lead, got a bit confusing. “It was a free vote on our side, and the other side it was very clear that the Liberals vote against the accountability,” he said, forgetting that his own senators had the very same concerns with the motion as the Liberals on “the other side.” That’s the messy world of party discipline at work.

As the Senate moves on to whatever is next, Segal has sent a message to his fellow senators: speak up.


What’s above the fold

The Globe and Mail Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack cocaine.
National Post  Ford refuses to step down.
Toronto Star  The mayor broke the news in a scrum, and later held a news conference.
Ottawa Citizen The Senate suspended three of its senators without pay.
CBC News PR experts aren’t sure Ford’s following a coherent game plan.
CTV News Ford may see the video of him purportedly smoking crack.
National Newswatch The suspended senators may remain on the public payroll.

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